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TAWHID AND SCIENCE: ESSAYS ON THE HISTORY AND PHILOSOPHY OF ISLAMIC SCIENCE

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TAWHID AND SCIENCE: ESSAYS ON THE HISTORY AND PHILOSOPHY OF ISLAMIC SCIENCE
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  T WHW zyx ND SCIENCE: ESS YS ON THE HISTORY AND PHILOSOPHY OF ISLAMIC SCIENCE BY OSMAN zyx AKAR PENANG, MALNSLA: SECRETARIAT FOR ISLAMIC PHILOSOPHY zy ND SCIENCE) 266PP. Osman Bakar’s ZbwhA’mdhZienc~ collection of essays about Islamic science, is finding a large audience in Malaysia, where Muslims are struggling to reconcile a traditional Islam with a modern and ’developed’ world, almost epitomized y the cold science and technology brought in by the developers. Conceiving of science srcinally-in the sense of being true to srcins-is Bakar’s contribution, and this book weaves a story of science which both chastises the abuses of scienceltechnology and encourages its potential, harnessed through a framework of values, namely zyx ?‘wh2 ”the declaration of God’s unity. Bakar is a well-known figure in Malaysia and beyond. He was trained in the heyday of Temple University’s Religion Department, getting exposure to two major themes of non-Orientalist Islamic studies: a ’fundamentalist” perspective which emphasizes the importance for Muslim communities of appropriating Western scienceltechnology in order to achieve their proper position of dominance in the world, and a ”sapiential” perspective which stresses contemplation of God’s world rather than control and exploitation, inner struggles for knowledge attainment rather than outward allegiances. As Sachiko Murata has put it in her fascinating source book on gender in the sapiential tradition, the two types are, respectively, yang and yin. Bakar is an excellent example of the traditional scholar, who somehow balances the two primary forces of yin and yang in his own life and work. This is no small accomplishment given the current emphasis in Islamic discourse in Malaysia on the yang, despite the traditional Malay appreciation of the yin aspect of Islam. That Bakar has not completely worked out the dynamic tension of the yin-yang (to continue that metaphor) in this book is my major criticism. That this book goes a long way in finding such a balance is a major accomplishment. Bakar begins his book y staking a position that all science done, tradi- tionally, by peoples informed by and in the worldview of Islam (whether the individual is ’Muslim” or not), is fundamentally similar. Its similarity derives from the source of scientific endeavor in a unifying framework of z  iha We have a metaphor of looking at the world through rosy glasses; for Osman, traditional Muslims looked at the world from hearts disposed to see Gods unity in all they surveyed. With ’enlightenment,’ the scientific endeavor shifted from the source of investigation to the object of investigation. That is 329  330 THE MUSLIM WORLD why ’anything goes” in contemporary science, and this is also how z awhi science closed the door to many areas of science/technology. It is inconceiv- able that certain kinds of scientific experimentation could ever be done under a r‘awhak framework. Just where the ”inconceivable’ begins for contempo- rary Muslim scientists is a sure sign of the depth of their tawhidic perspective and their own conception of yin and yang. Bakarb first chapter neatly disposes of the myth that Muslim science was somehow illogical and irrational. He examines the development of logic and the use of the experimental method, and then compares the metaphor of God the ”clock-maker” with a tawhdc metaphor, showing how the “spirit of Muslim observation and experimentation is shaped by this religious con- sciousness.’ (p. 7) He gets into something of a jam when he extends this helpful debunking into the clarion call of Western science for “objectivity.” The reasoning goes that since ’objectivity’ is ’good,’ it must be Islamic. He calls the primary meaning of ”objectivity‘ the idea of impartiality and a disinterested perspec- tive. While think I know what he means, his words contradict the fact that r‘awhbkscience is ‘interested.” Of course Western science is “interested” too, but its values are usually submerged: Islamic science puts its values “up front,” as Ziauddin Sardar says it, and Bakar seems to have missed this. In his next chapter, Bakar skims over the importance of Seyyed Hossein Nasr’s works, an important teacher in Osman’s education. Although the perennialist or sapiential tradition does not desire approval from modernity, Bakar does find a way to interject into contemporary Western academic sci- ence the concept and worldview of tradition. He finds a chink in the armor of academic science in the ’demolishment’ of the idea of a single methodol- ogy in Science by scholars such as Feyerabend and Capra (two scholars he quotes). Western academic science should listen, therefore, to opposing worldviews. Muslim scholars would do well, too, in studying these “post- rational” scholars. Bakar is part of a group, which met last November in Lansing, of Muslim scientists and social scientists who are-among many things-discussing issues of fundamental importance to Islamic civilization in ways which are accessible to a non-Muslim academic audience. Bakar is aware that this is something of a trojan horse, because ’Were modern science to. zy   accord [sacred Scriptures] the same epistemological status as given by the traditional sciences. .it would cease to be modern science as it is presently understood and cultivated.’ The rest of this chapter explores, through diagrams, the hierarchical worldview of the mystical and sapiential tradition. Although Ziauddin Sardar has attacked what he sees as a political hierarchy-and even an Isma‘ili politi- cal hierarchy-in the formulations of scholars like Nasr and Bakar, from this chapter it is clear that what is being ranked and graded are sources and recep-  T WHID ND SC’ENCR ESSA YS ON fSLMIC SCENCE 3 3 tacles of knowledge. Although the hierarchy which places intuition, say bove the senses as a source of knowledge can clearly be abused politically (by postulating an elite who are ”in tune” and thereby legitimate masters of a sensory-slave population), the hierarchy itself is not the source of such abuse. Chapter Three is a delightful ourney with al-Ghazali through the various possible epistemologies available to humankind. Imam al-Ghazali is still very popular in Malaysia (many Malays name their sons after him) and Bakar handles al-Ghazali’s journey beyond doubt in a way which balances the inward world and the outward, the sure and certain faith which comes about with the cleansing of the inner eye with the validity and importance of outward observance of the Law. Chapter Four looks at Nature as a source of scientific knowledge. The traditional Muslim saw nature as God’s creation, thereby sanctifying it. The tawhiZc perspective, which knows nature through God and God through nature, will go a long way in abolishing the spirit of reductionism which ”has come to characterize modern science” and which “has impoverished the natural order” (p. 76). Chapter Five examines Ash(arite atomism. Ironically, some Muslim scholars of the last few decades have wanted to revive the Mu’tazilite perspective, which comes close to a PcloCk-maker” view of the world, so as to put Islam into the verifying grid of Western science. And then Western science came up with quantum mechanics, which sounds much more like Ash‘arite atomism, mak- ing “forward” looking Muslims scramble to place ”Islam” once again at the forefront of that verifymg grid of the West. But Bakar, having “stayed the course,” is now at the forefront The Ash‘arite idea that God does not have “natural” laws which do His work, but directly ”intervenes* into the ”natural” world every instant, is more in tune, I suppose, with a quantum mechanical world where particles are defined by probability waves and go this way or that depending on observa- tion and ”chance.” (Sufi scholars like Ibn (Arabi zy 1165-12401 eveloped these ideas far beyond both Ash‘ari’s school and modern reductionist descriptions of quantum reality, delving into the Qur’anic idea of God being ‘Each day. U~R ome task” [55:29] nd the sufi saying Ziwiie z e/ dsc/osue does not repeak zyxw   Bakar’s chapter on Islamic medicine is a carefully constructed introduc- tion to an entire worldview, with diagrams showing the way the body is con- ceived of y Islamic medicine. Although he cites specifically Indo-Pakistan for a vital and living tradition of holistic medicine, and the fusion of Ayurvedic See William C. Chittick, 7%e SufiP’fh ofKnorv/dge Albany: State University of z ew York Press, 1989) p. 18, 8, 03, 29,274, nd 336 for Ibn ‘Arabi’s treatment of ‘Diwhe se/f-dsc/osurc doesnotrepee ” and pp. 18, 8.96.98ff.. 104.107,109. 83, 97, 38. nd 377 or ‘Xkh dqvbe ~i upon some t sk” 55:27).  332 zxwvu HE MUSLIM WORLD knowledge with Islamic conceptions of health and the body, he does not mention a similar fusion closer to his home: in Malaysia, holistic Indian, Chinese, and Malay conceptions of health abound. While there are huge icons of intrusive and invasive modern Western medical science in Kuala Lumpur-Subang Medical Center, for example-there is also a growing at- traction to traditional conceptions of health, found in a clinic run by the sufi- fundamentalist group Darul Islam, for instance. Other chapters, like the one on <Umar Khayyam, are well-researched monographs on zyxw   particular issue. It is only when Bakar resumes his general- izations that I have some criticisms. In the chapter on bioethics, for example, Bakar brings out the traditional discussion of abortion. But I feel that the author has missed the political dimension of this argument. Abortion has indeed been allowed in Muslim societies; the debate now, in the West, centers around the woman’s body, and who may legitimately control it-the woman herself or the state. One could quite easily find a cynical political reason for abortions being legitimate in Muslim societies: the man wants to control ”his” fetus Because of strict inheritance laws, a man might wish to have a certain wife not conceive their child. Allowing abortion, from this perspective, is allowing men to ’awn’ the fetus and decide, without the woman’s involvement, whether it will become a child or not. Also, Bakar sees the role of Islamic jurisprudence in these issues, such as abortion and organ transplants, as one of giving answers. I disagree strongly. I believe the role of the z iqh (legal discourse) in Islam is instead to provide the terminology and framework for discussing issues; its role is to provide not answers but “a context for the peaceable formation by individuals of their own ties under an institutional umbrella,” as Lawrence Rosen remarked in his insightful work on the pdin a traditional Moroccan village.2 The zyxw -his meant to bring questions into the public arena, place concerns into different categories, and subject the whole to the community’s understanding of the revelation. It is not meant to give answers zyxwvu x cathedra. Bakar’s discussion of ’Islamization” is excellent, and one hopes that this important movement gets more attention from the general academic com- munity. Let me briefly put Bakar’s zyx ork into the hotly contented field of “Islamization.” Perhaps the oldest school of thought, separate from the Mus- lim ”refonners”-those who, succumbing to the power and allure of modern colonial forces, sought to save Islam y making it modern-is best represented by Seyyed Hossein Nasr. This school of thought, which can be called perenniali~t,~ nsists on the primacy of sacred tradition, where science is the Lawrence Rosen 1989) The 8n/hrop/ogy ofybstke: /arv as cu/ture z ~ Is/hmc socJe& Perennialists include Ananda Coomaraswamy, Rene Guenon. Frithjof Schuon. Marco Pallis, Cambridge: Press Syndicate) 60. Huston Smith, and Gai Eaton.  TA WHID AND SCIENCE ESS YS ON ISLAMIC SCIENCE 333 study of divine revelation and the divine order of things. This school of thought was, according to Ziauddin Sardar, the first to ”convey the feel of an alter- native science in action: a science that is just zy s ‘objective’ and ‘rational’ as Western science, but [which] zyx raws its legitimacy and its philosophical and sociological framework from the all-encompassing epistemology of Islam.”* Interestingly, there is a similar epistemological stance which has devel- oped independently of the above school. Naquib al-Attas, who now directs his own institute in Kuala Lumpur, has founded a school of thought which incorporates the mysticism and spiritualism-which is a hallmark of Nasr’s work-without much emphasis on cosmologies and occult sciences. Naquib al-Attas’s earliest contribution was to examine how the Malay archipelago became ”Islamized.” The concept of ’Islamization” would later move in two different directions. From al-Attas’ side, ”Islamization” s very much imbued with spirituality and an epistemological separation from Western materialist concerns. Ziauddin explains that the essence of al-Attas’s argument is this: working within the Occidental system of knowledge, Muslim scholars and scientists can only promote the values and inner tensions of Western culture and civilization. Such a body of scholarship and science cannot really serve the needs of Mus lim societies or indeed take social root within the Muslim world.5 From the other side, Ismail Raji al-Faruqi founded an ”Islamization of Knowledge” school which sought to lay the groundwork for a thorough revision and recasting of the Western sciences to fit and benefit Muslim societies6 Bakar has been able to integrate in his own work some of these divergent strands of Islamization. But while many architects of Islamization are abstract, Bakar has pre- sented the first “implementable” vision of the contemporary sapiential tradi- Ziauddin Sardar zyxwvu 1985) /S/am/cFu/u/es TheShape zyx flX=a/o Gm~ London: Mansell) 174 His criticisms of Nasr. understated and implied in zyx  amic F[//[/re.s; re full-blown in Etphrahns /i h/amk Scihcrp Mansell), with explicit criticism of Bakar’s work as well. Ziauddin Sardar (1985) 94. Let me re-map the above playing field in terms of size and influence. Nasr. working out of Beirut. lkheran, Temple University and now The George Washington University, has students throughout the world. His ideas are widely read throughout the Muslim world and he has been at the forefront of introducing Islamic science to the Western world. Al-Attas. in Kuala Lumpur. has a similar worldwide reputation. and his students are also spreading out throughout the world. Ziauddin Sardar. in London, has organized a group of thinkers under the concept of the z rial a word connoting synthesis and beauty. The ljmalis haw produced an impressive body of literature in the decade or so of their existence, and they have had important. if sporadic, effect on governmental decision-making in the field of science. The Islamization of Knowledge movement has an men more atensive body of literature. mainly in economics. and has founded think-tanks and universities. By concentrating on textbooks and by encouraging graduate students. the Islamization movement hopes to have significant influence on his generation of Muslim scholars. Ziauddin in Eiphuahws also discusses smaller groups, like the Aligarh school and those positivist Muslims who adkcate a science with explicitly Western values which they insist is just ’Science.‘
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